Whenever Paul Chan Mo-po opens his mouth, you can expect embarrassment and entertainment in equal measure. But this weekend, the development secretary outdid himself.
I don't really blame him, though, for being someone completely out of his depth and having to rely on senior staff within his bureau. But that is the problem. It's a universal truth that civil servants think they are never wrong and always have mountains of statistics and rationales to justify whatever they happen to be advocating.
In this case, it's the new towns being planned in Fanling North and Kwu Tung North. This is how it looks to the public: to make way, the government will be evicting poor villagers, while leaving alone Hong Kong's best golf courses nearby, a playground of some of the richest people in town. Farmland will be retaken and village homes demolished, but not the Hong Kong Golf Club next door.
Okay, I am sure the villagers will be given generous compensation, and their threats to never give in and to occupy the golf courses are just an opening salvo to gain the maximum dues.
But it's all about public perception, and Chan has lost hold of the message even before he could shape a convincing narrative for the public.
During the weekend, he was defending his deputies' version of the plan without realising how bad it looked to the rest of us. Under our ministerial system, bureau chiefs are supposed to be politicians of the sort astute enough to gauge the public mood to promote, change, or disown plans developed by bureaucrats.
But someone as feeble as Chan becomes hostage to the senior bureaucrats. We have seen this play out before with education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim during the national education row.
To excuse himself, Chan claims the club's status is being reviewed and 170 hectares may be taken back for redevelopment. Fat chance of that happening!
The dead giveaway was when he said the government cannot unilaterally change a club's lease. If you get rid of this club, he asked, why not the South China Athletic Association? Maybe it's because the SCAA is on Hong Kong Island! When the golf club's lease expires in 2020, Chan will be long gone and forgotten, just like his fabled review plan.
We don't need to redevelop the golf courses. The public lacks green space and could really use those hectares of greenery. Turn it into a public golf club and playground after 2020, so it can still host international tournaments. The club can keep its course for fat-cat members in Deep Water Bay.